NOLA Review: Between Two Skies by Joanne O’Sullivan



Bayou Perdu, a tiny fishing town way, way down in Louisiana, is home to sixteen-year-old Evangeline Riley. She has her best friends, Kendra and Danielle; her wise, beloved Mamere; and back-to-back titles in the under-sixteen fishing rodeo. But, dearest to her heart, she has the peace that only comes when she takes her skiff out to where there is nothing but sky and air and water and wings. It’s a small life, but it is Evangeline’s. And then the storm comes, and everything changes. Amid the chaos and pain and destruction comes Tru — a fellow refugee, a budding bluesman, a balm for Evangeline’s aching heart. Told in a strong, steady voice, with a keen sense of place and a vivid cast of characters, here is a novel that asks compelling questions about class and politics, exile and belonging, and the pain of being cast out of your home. But above all, this remarkable debut tells a gently woven love story, difficult to put down, impossible to forget.

This week is focused on the City of New Orleans. A caveat of this novel specifically is that it’s actually set in a smaller parish outside of New Orleans, but it deals with some characters from NOLA and the implications of evacuation pre and post-Katrina.  I figured that counts towards it!

Between Two Skies is beautifully simplistic and heart wrenching at the same time. Don’t mistake simplistic for poorly written, it is just easy to read considering the subject matter. The narrative follows the Riley family as they navigate the times before Katrina – where they struggled to stay afloat financially, to post-Katrina where they struggle with their lives after the devastation and with the idea of returning home.

Home is such an important aspect of this novel.  While some narratives really emphasize that home is where the heart is in a family or romantic sense, Evangeline feels this on such a basic and physical level of being connected to the land and the water of the Mississippi and the Gulf. She’s a champion fisher, although I really don’t know what kind of competitions there are for fishing other than maybe the size of the catch? I’ve only fished like twice in my life though, so that’s probably why I have very little knowledge of this. But anyway, being a fisherwoman would help explain why she felt so connected to the water and the land around her town.

O’Sullivan touches on the depression and anxiety that came from the relocation of the Riley’s to Atlanta, and how adjusting to a completely new school without any roots, any of their major belongings, or their friends. This is mostly shown through Evangeline’s sister, Mandy, so it really is just touched on.  I do think this should have been more of a focus, but I understand that it wasn’t the main point of this story.

I do think the love story was a bit distracting from the family narrative that I found to be the best part of the book, and the death of the family matriarch should have been more important and a focus on the transition to the new generation.

Other than those drawbacks, I really enjoyed reading this book! I read it in one sitting, and I suggest everyone pick up a copy!

4 Bards.

Between Two Skies


New From: $5.45 USD In Stock

NOLA Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

 


It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.

She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

Holy hell was this book a roller coaster of action and heartbreak.

Now, I mostly decided to feature books set in or about New Orleans for this week because I will be visiting for the first time in a week. I’m quickly realizing that I’m in for some moving work.

Out of the Easy provides such a portrait of New Orleans in the 1950s that I feel like I could have been walking alongside Josie and taking a ride with Cokie through every page.  Sepetys is such a historical fiction genius.  She weaves the story of this incredibly intelligent teenage girl with a penchant for books and a heart of gold alongside a rough and tumble life of prostitutes and mob violence. Honestly, there were so many vibrant characters that jumped off the page.  From Charlie to his son, Patrick, to Charlotte (who only physically appears twice), to the brooding Jesse, to the fierce and unapologetic Willie…New Orleans is my favorite character in this book.

The version of New Orleans that Sepetys has created shows the darkness and the light sides of the city in such a subtle way.  She doesn’t hammer us over the head with the details or even using too much of the southern dialect or Creole vocabulary.  I don’t really know how to explain it, but it made me fall in love with the dichotomy that is this historic city.  I also appreciate that while the novel mentions Mardi Gras, it doesn’t focus on it or spend a whole lot of the narrative on it.  I think I’ve just come to expect that with anyone who mentions NOLA, so I was super happy that the narrative was much more character focused.

Side note: Sepetys actually mentions a good number of places in New Orleans that are still famous today and places that myself and my best friend have actually discussed visiting next week.

Commander’s Palace (which has .25 cent martinis at lunch!), Antoine’s (with famous Baked Alaska), and Galatoire’s (NYT Top 10 Best Restaurants)

This book stole my heart.

5 Bards!

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